Private universities irked by tighter government control

Private universities in Afghanistan have been irked by government moves to take charge of university entrance examinations as well as halting admissions to private faculties of medicine, voicing their opposition to what they see as greater government interference in the private higher education sector.

Private universities had previously held their own entrance examinations to select students. These will now come under government supervision.

Private universities have only flourished in the past few years thanks to the relative peace in major urban centres amid growing interest among the population in seeking higher education in the war-ravaged country.

With a fast-expanding private sector, the Ministry of Higher Education has tightened the rules aimed at better regulation of the fee structure and quality control of the academic as well as administrative aspects of the sprawling private universities. The ministry has also said recently that tightened regulations came after complaints of degree-selling at private universities amid allegations that some students did not even attend classes.

The Association of Private Universities and Institutes of Higher Education in Afghanistan (APUIHEA) held an emergency meeting last week to raise their concerns and opposition towards greater interference, as they put it, by the government in private sector education institutions. APUIHEA President Shafiullah Naimi told University World News that the lingering issues with the government have yet to be resolved.

“We plan to lodge complaints with USAID and the US embassy that are striving hard to promote the private sector in Afghanistan,” he said, referring to the United States Agency for International Development which provides some funds for higher education, including for the private sector.

“The restrictions by the government are very discouraging both for the students and management of private universities, who have invested their fortune in setting up more than a hundred universities in the country,” he said.

It took the Afghan government over a decade to finally issue approved degrees and diplomas last year to thousands of private university students who had been unable to get a seat in the insufficient public sector institutions. Official figures suggest as many as 131 private higher education institutions have emerged, offering courses in 431 faculties and 990 departments.

On a yearly basis, more than 50% of high school graduates – over 100,000 – fail to make it into the public universities simply because there aren’t enough seats available. However, according to the new rules from this year, the private universities have been barred from directly enrolling students for medicine. These include Cheragh Medical University in Kabul.

Checks and balances

Ministry of Higher Education spokesperson Faisal Amin defended the move. “The main objective behind the new regulations is to have checks and balances in place for private sector admissions as well. From now on, the Independent Directorate of University Entrance Examination would conduct entry tests for the private universities as well,” he said.

Kabul-based academic and author, Dr Mohammad Nezam, is in favour of some regulation of the private sector. “Without any control and regulations, the private sector is very likely to relentlessly pursue its economic interests, which would prove devastating, particularly in fields such as medicine, public administration, civil engineering etc,” he said.

Nezam suggested that an open and balanced regulatory mechanism supervised by public representatives and keeping the interests of students in mind would be the right solution to the present standoff.